Perspective

Thursday morning I stepped out of my car into the sweltering heat. My glasses fogged as I walked into the office building where I work. Without effort, my thoughts headed down a well-worn path.  I rehearsed the why’s of my current location, the what’s of nature I’d rather be surrounded with, and the how’s of potential change. But the when is not now and the where isn’t settled, so I redirected myself to my work, grumbling a bit and enduring on.

Saturday afternoon I slid into the driver’s seat of my car – literally – slid – onto the seat as my legs were so sweaty the usual struggle of sticking was long past. My face was beat red from the couple of hours I’d spent walking on the concrete in the sun and heat surrounded by the buildings of downtown.

And what was that I felt?gratitude?

I was thankful for the option of turning on the air conditioner, blocking out the sun with a visor, and getting ice out of my freezer at home anytime I wanted to. It was hot, at least as hot as Thursday. But spending a couple of hours serving others who aren’t as fortunate as I am, made all the difference in my heart.  I’m sure the people we met appreciated the ice-cream sandwiches and cold water we shared. But interestingly, none of them were grumbling about the weather. And once again my heart told me it is true: It is more blessed to give than to receive.

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May you find the blessings in your own life as well no matter your situation.

 

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A New Heritage

As I listened to their description of what it means to provide hospitality, my first response was to tell myself some lies. “I don’t know how to do that. The family I came from never taught me that. This is going to be hard.”

While I enjoy having friends over and have prepared countless meals, the kind of hospitality they were talking about was at a whole different level. It involved welcoming the stranger into my home, relieving their burdens and providing for their needs for the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Wow! Yeah – I’ve never seen that done. … Or have I?

While Jesus was on the earth revealing the love of the Father to us, He went about doing good ~ healing the sick, relieving physical maladies, lifting emotional baggage, and feeding thousands of strangers at a time. He gave hope to those who could never repay Him. He expressed love and forgiveness for people who spat in His face.

I have seen that kind of hospitality.

The gospel tells me that I am seated at the right hand of God (Eph 2:1-10) with Jesus. It says that Jesus agreed to trade places with me in order to heal what I am unable to heal for myself (Isa 53:5, 1 Pet 2:24). If I accept the gift that Jesus has offered, I have the most amazing heritage of hospitality!  John 14:12 tells me that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, made possible by the gift of Jesus, I will do the things Jesus did while on earth in order to bring glory to the Father.  It’s already a reality. I just have to claim it as mine and choose to live in that reality.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

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What I was shown or not shown, what was done or not done to me or for me, is a part of my story. But it does not define me. In the gospel story, through the exchange of Jesus, I am offered a new heritage. I can grieve whatever I need to from my past, but I am given the option of grieving with hope. I can acknowledge the hurt of any past events, without any part of it determining my future. So when looking strictly at family of origin, it would be true to say I have not been shown how to be hospitable. However, Jesus has inserted a new story line into my life and has provided all I need. In Him, my story changes.  In Him, I am whole and complete.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

The Gospel ~ Big Picture

The story of God is a story of love. For He is Love. My story, your story – our story as the human race – is but a small part of God’s story. He is the hero of all stories.

In the beginning, before time on earth began, God existed in the form of three – but yet in one. Being three in one God has experienced love, shown love, been love for all time. As an expression of His love, and no doubt also as an expression of His power and creativity,  God created. God created angels. And He created our world and the human race. We were made to be in relationship with Him. We were made in His image, to give and receive love.

Doubting the goodness of God, Adam and Eve broke the relationship.  Each of us has been born into that state of brokenness since that time.

Knowing His creation could not repair what had been broken without eternally losing their lives, God came to the garden with good news for Adam and Eve. He would make a way for the connection to be regained. It would be expensive for Him, but He had a plan.

God sent His Son, not as a third party to punish and bear the brunt of His anger, but as a part of Himself, to take the consequence of sin. Coming as a baby, to grow and experience life as a human, Jesus could identify with the plight of humanity. In this exchange, He gave up His omnipresence being now limited to space and time, omniscience – having to grow in wisdom, and omnipotence – doing nothing but what His Father empowered Him to  do.  He came as an expression of the Father – to reveal the Father. Jesus is God.  

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As a result of bearing our sins at the end of His ministry, His guilt ridden soul was shut from the Father’s presence. He who had known ever-present, perfect love was now entirely alone and the separation broke His heart. The wages of sin are death, not as a punishment or revenge from God, but as a natural result of choosing to be separated from the source of life. Jesus bore that price by choice to provide a way for us to be free from the penalty. By His wounds we are healed. Being fully divine, Jesus conquered the grave. His payment was accepted by the Father. Hallelujah! Our Savior lives!

God offers this payment to any who would believe. Reaching out our hand and accepting the gift is all that is required. And once accepted, life eternal is ours – beginning now. What God calls real, is real – now – even though I’m not experiencing it yet. That’s part of the faith process. Believing involves trusting what God says more than what my senses say.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

It’s not the ending we deserve. That’s the gospel. And that’s good news!

A Step Forward

Move your foot forward.

He whispers.

It’s too hard! It’s too hard! It’s too hard!

I cry.

Just a little.

He whispers.

I reluctantly shuffle my heavy foot ~ fearing the worst.

I stumble ~ but don’t fall.

Move your foot forward.

He whispers.

It’s too hard! It’s too hard!

I cry.

Just a little.

He whispers.

I shuffle my heavy foot.

I don’t fall.

Move your foot forward.

He whispers.

It’s too hard!

I cry.

Just a little.

He whispers.

I shuffle my foot.

I am standing.

Move your foot forward.

He whispers.

I will.

I reply.

Just a little.

He whispers.

I step forward.

I am standing ~ with other warriors.

Dare We Believe?

While growing up I attended many an evangelistic series. This was not as a result of any intense spirituality, but was my lot in life. The evangelistic series I attended were presented by my dad. His sermons were full of the good news of God’s love. Often he would end his sermons with an altar call, providing a chance for people to commit their lives to Christ. Generally at least once during each series of meetings a favorite hymn of mine would be sung during the altar call.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

The song is full of good news! Yes! What a safe harbor! What a welcome reprieve His love provides!

However, be it my own flawed perception, or be it the teaching of the day or the church, it seemed that hardly had the good news landed on the ears when the unsuspecting convert was hit with a left hook. It went something like this, “Now, here’s the deal. God loves you for sure, but you need to stop smoking. That’s not too much to ask since you know smoking’s bad for you anyway, right?  Ok. Great. Now, there’s more to the deal. God says if you love Him you’ll obey His commandments. So here, I’ll read them for you. Got it? Great. Now, hang on. Not everything you have to do is listed in the commandments. There’s some more over here. Let me read it for you. … Got it? Great. Just a few more and then we can talk about your being baptized so you can join the body of Christ. I’m so excited for you!”

The bottom line sounds something like this, “If you love God, convince Him and the rest of us by the way you act.” Immediately the list of must’s and should’s grows long and the good news becomes very burdensome and really not good news at all ~ because “now you know better, and now if you don’t ‘do it’ you’re really going to be lost!” (James 4:17)

Salvation in that setting becomes twisted into things I must do rather than a relationship I live with a God who loves me.  Immediately self fights to keep hold of the prospect of salvation and heaven. I start looking around instead of up, and comparison thinking comes to my defense, sounding something like “Well, at least I….

Furthermore, a works oriented model of salvation creates bondage (Gal 5:1) to fearful insecurity where I am plagued with questions.

“Have I done enough yet?”

“Is God pleased with me yet?”

“Have I asked for forgiveness of all of my sins?

“What if I misunderstand what God is saying and do this wrong even though I want to follow Him?”

I would sum them up in two words. “OH NO!”

The good news is, God doesn’t want more of my efforts. He offers me an entirely different quality of life grounded in the life of His Son who was the fulfillment of the law (Mat 5:17-20). Dare we allow God’s message to actually be good news?

The good news is, God says His love for me does not depend on what I do (Rom 5:8). Dare we stop scrambling for His acceptance and instead allow His peace to wash over us?

The good news is, in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), the father does not ask the son to do anything. Coming home to be with his father was enough. Dare we believe God is anxious to welcome us into His family just because He is love?

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The good news is, a leopard cannot change his spots – nor can we change our sinful nature (Jer 13:23). Dare we believe our best efforts are a waste in regards to our salvation and sanctification?

The good news is, in the lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of the Biblical people of God, outright premeditated sin was present in their lives. And God did not leave them. Dare we believe He will continue to work with us in the midst of our imperfections?

“Yeah, but…” I hear some church folk saying, “if you’re going to be a Christian, you’ve got to…”

I hear Christ saying I must seek first His kingdom of love and His covenant faithfulness with all my heart, and hang out with Him, then all the other things will come in time (Matt 6:33, Jer 29:13, John 15:1-8). 

Rather than being required, obedience to God’s law is inevitable as I spend time with Him. (2 Cor 3:18)

Living a life right with God is not a test of my relationship with Him ~ but it will be the natural long-term result of my relationship (Romans 10:4). Forcing it to happen the other way around may change the outside of me if I am determined enough ~ but it will never change the inside. Only basking in His perfect love and acceptance will change my core.

It is God who does His work in me and in you. (Phil 1:6)

Dare we believe the good news?

Not “But” but “And”

When I am putting a puzzle together, the first thing I do after dumping the pieces out of the box is to turn them all right side up. The next step is to divide the pieces into edge pieces and center pieces. If it’s a very complicated or large puzzle, I might then sort the pieces by dominant color.  Things are easier and make more sense when they are sorted.  I think that’s pretty normal and a common process people go through when putting together puzzles.

Most of us like to live our lives that way as well. We like to have things sorted: like/ dislike, enjoy/ avoid, good/ bad, black/ white. We want to package things up so they are more manageable and easier to know where they fit in our set of life rules, values and priorities.

Try something with me and consider the feeling of these sentences:

I went to the parade, but it rained.
I trusted my friend, but he didn’t keep my secret.
I took a chemistry class, but I didn’t do well.

These comments seem to have an implied “period” at the end.

 
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Now see how that feeling changes when one little word is changed.

I went to the parade, and it rained.
I trusted my friend, and he told my secret.
I took a chemistry class, and I didn’t do well.

These statements feel like the listener could respond, “Okay. So then what happened?”

And” feels more accepting to me. It feels more grace-full. It feels more hope filled. It feels like there is joy mixed in with disappointment. “There was good, and there was also bad.” In a way the “and” statements feel like the negative is less powerful which make the statements as a whole more empowering for the person speaking. “Yes, something bad happened, and life went on.” It also feels messier, less sorted, less clear and less manageable.

And that, my friend, is real. It is life.

Let’s do Lunch

I was on fire. God had changed my life and set me free. True of anyone who has experienced something good, I wanted to share it. There was a particular couple who had obviously been searching for something deeper in their lives during the several years we had known them. They were able to verbalize their disappointment with life and the emptiness they felt within. I knew I had Something that would fill their void, and I picked her to share it with. I had a plan as to how I’d go about sharing the Good News.  I just knew I could win her to Jesus and I was so excited about it.

I asked her to lunch. She accepted. I started praying about it right away. I prayed that God would give me words. I prayed that He would direct the conversation. I prayed that He would open her heart. I prayed. I prayed. I prayed. I have never attended a lunch date that I have prayed over more.

The day arrived. We met at a small but popular sandwich shop on Main Street. It was crowded and noisy. We got our food and found a small table, small enough that we had no choice but to sit close. I was nervous. I didn’t want to be a “Jesus Freak”, but I knew I had something that could change her life. I wanted to give it to her. I prayed. My palms were sweaty. I prayed some more reminding God I had no idea how to start this conversation. Within moments, totally out of context of our conversation, my friend said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about maybe going to church.” I prayed silently again, this time a prayer of thanks for opening the doors wide.  The conversation flowed from there.

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By the end of lunch she had agreed to meet for a Bible study at the library the next Wednesday. It was going to be a women’s group. We were going to study the book of John and learn about Jesus.  I went to the library that day. She never came. I went to the library the following three Wednesdays. She never came. I called her. She agreed to another lunch date. But the night before we were to meet, her husband called me to cancel on her behalf. I never heard from her again.

I had failed. I felt horrible. I must have said something wrong. I must have come on too strong. I messed up. I felt like I had disappointed God.  I, I, I.

Several months went by. My daughter was selling cookie dough for a fundraiser at school. She, totally unaware of the inward turmoil I had undergone concerning this couple, wanted me to stop at their house so she could sell them cookie dough. I didn’t want to. But I wanted even less to try to explain my uneasiness to my young daughter. So I took the lesser of the two evils and stopped, knowing that the wife would be at work at that hour.  As expected, her husband was home. He talked at his usual non-stop pace, but avoided the purchase of the cookie dough. “No,” he said. “You’ll have to talk to my wife. Go by her work and she’ll buy something from you.” He explained how to get to her office.  Now I was really uncomfortable. I knew he would check with her to make sure I’d gone by to see her – he was just that type. Now I had two people to whom I didn’t want to explain my sense of failure.  The lesser of two evils suddenly became facing the person who embodied my failure.

With great fear and anxiety I drove to her place of work. The kids excitedly got out and ran in the building. I walked slowly behind. She was on the phone when we arrived and we were invited by the receptionist to have a seat. It seemed obvious to me this lady had no interest in ever seeing my face again and I would have been happy to have obliged her.

I heard her say good-bye and hang up the phone. “Here comes the awkward moment,” I thought. As we walked in her office she jumped from her seat and ran around the desk to greet me. Rather than a handshake, her arms embraced me in a warm hug.  Her face was beaming. “You will never believe what has happened!” she exclaimed then continued. “Remember that conversation we had at the restaurant several months ago?” I stood with my mouth gaping open. I did remember the conversation – all too well. It had ended with me failing.  I had no idea what she was so excited about. She went on to tell me that she had spent a couple of months thinking about what I had said. She had completely changed her life-style since then. She no longer worked three jobs. She went hunting with her husband now. She also took time to go visit her nieces and nephews. Her life was richer and had meaning. She couldn’t thank me enough for what I’d said to encourage her.

That was several years ago. To this day I have no idea what I said to change her life. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that I didn’t say anything at all to change her life. I can’t change lives. The Holy Spirit had been invited – and He gives people the opportunity to be changed. I don’t know where this woman is at now in her walk, but it will be interesting to see one day.  The experience gave me many very important lessons. Sometimes people don’t need a Bible study – they might only be ready for a friend.  The working of the Holy Spirit probably won’t look the way I expect. I don’t need to feel wonderful or successful for God to have been at work. And most important – it’s not about me and what I can do. It’s about me connecting with God and letting Him do.

Not by Sight

Sometimes I smile and later I feel happy.
Sometimes I give and later I feel generous.
Sometimes I wait and later I feel patient.
Sometimes I go forward and later I feel courageous.
Sometimes I walk and later I see the path.
Sometimes I am vulnerable and later I feel safe.
Sometimes I am washed clean and later I feel forgiven.
Sometimes I obey and later I understand why.
Sometimes I reach out and later I am held.
Sometimes I hurt and later I am comforted.
Sometimes I am quiet and later I hear His voice.
Sometimes I jump and later He catches me.

Fearless Love

Memories of my childhood are happy ones. We played with a tamed raccoon. He’d try to wash his cracker snacks off in the tub and we’d laugh as his treat disintegrated in his paws. We fished for salmon in the ocean. We’d tease each other by yanking on someone’s fishing line when they weren’t looking, making them jump to action thinking they’d caught a big one. We camped in the woods of Wisconsin. We’d roast marshmallows over the campfire and go for bike rides on the trails. We helped with camp pitch the week before camp meeting. After our jobs were done, my siblings and I would explore with the other pastors’ kids before the remaining meeting attendees arrived. We tagged along with our parents on the weekends. Saturday nights were often spent in the conference office doing odd jobs or racing each other on wheeled chairs while our parents worked.

Life was carefree. It’s not that nothing ever went wrong, but when it did I believed my dad could fix it. It’s not that I was never in a dangerous situation, but I knew he would always protect me. It’s not that I had all I wanted, but I trusted he would give me all I needed. It’s not that I never fell, but I had faith he would always catch me.

His love set me free. No worry, just trust. No anxiety, just hope. No fear, just faith. No restlessness, just the peaceful slumber of an innocent child. No apprehension of the unknown, just fearless forward motion with him beside me. I believed in me because he believed in me and I believed in him. I know now he is human like the rest of us. Fallible. But I didn’t know it then. All I knew was that he loved me. And that was enough.

Dear God, I want to know love like that with You.

Stretch

It was the fourth morning on the Quetico Provincial Park canoe trip.  We had paddled against a headwind for three days covering approximately 12 miles each day and portaging our gear and canoes between several lakes.  This morning was relatively calm – a welcome change in the weather.  Before starting out on our day’s journey, we decided to investigate a recently vacated campsite on a neighboring island.  It had looked like a desirable location but had been occupied when we paddled by the evening before.  The campers were our first siting of people since embarking on our journey.  In the country we were traveling, people were almost as sparse as the bear, moose, elk and deer appeared to be (we saw none of the four-legged creatures mentioned).

We pulled up along side a large boulder and hopped out of the canoe.  The helmsman (HM) from the accompanying canoe came over to hold our canoe while my canoe partner (CP) and I went to check out the campsite.  It was a dandy.  There was a very nice fire pit and lots of level ground for tents.  We’d have to mark that on the map as a good spot.

As we came back to the canoe to load up, life suddenly went into slow motion.  Much transpired in a short time.  I would guess the following story occurred in a minute or less.

HM went back to his canoe.  CP got into our canoe.  I, well, I didn’t make it in the canoe at all.  I am most grateful, actually, that I didn’t partially make it in the canoe or the story would have become even more complex I’m sure.  But, I didn’t reach the goal at all.  As I was approaching the canoe, my foot slipped on a mossy part of the rock and down I slid.  As I recall, I was about waist deep where I initially landed.  I promptly attempted to climb out myself, only to hit another slick spot and end up entirely in the water with nothing beneath my feet.  We’d been swimming in the lake the evening before.  The temperature was moderately warm.  It didn’t feel too bad, but I wasn’t planning to start my day with a bath.  By now I had one hand on a dry crevice in the rock. With the buoyancy of the water to help lift me, my fingers could hold me there for quite a while.  “Grab the canoe,”  CP instructed.  I reached for it with my free hand and grasped the bow.  In a flash CP was out of the canoe and in front of me on the rock.  “Now let go of the rock and take my hand,” he instructed next.  “What if I pull you in?” I countered.  “You won’t.  Grab my hand,” he replied.  I thought for a second.  He was standing on dry rock- which meant he was a little ways away.  It would be a stretch to reach his hand.  And I couldn’t let go of the canoe with the other hand yet because HM wasn’t back to the side of our canoe at that point.  What if I let go but missed his hand and then couldn’t find my comfortable crevice again?  Then I’d be floating around with the canoe and no land to hang on to.  Or what if I did pull CP into the water?  My fingers were still securely in the crevice of the rock.  It felt safe.  I wasn’t cold.  I wasn’t in immediate danger.  But obviously I couldn’t stay there forever.  I had to get out of the water to get on with my day.  The crevice in the rock I was hanging on to wasn’t helping me get out of the water.  I had to have faith to let go of what felt secure in order to get on with something better.  I made the stretch and it all turned out just fine.

Rescued

I haven’t always made the stretch in life.  There have been situations, ways of coping, or even attitudes that I knew weren’t ideal, but possibly just the familiarity of it gave me the feeling that staying in it was the safe thing to do.  It’s sometimes easier to stay in a place in life that we know, even when we are hanging on by our fingertips, than to let go, try something new, and reach for something better.  What keeps you from letting go?  What’s holding you back? What’s keeping you in the water and not on the rock?

1 Hear my cry, O God;
Attend to my prayer.
2 From the end of the earth I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

3 For You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
4 I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.  Selah  Psalm 61: 1-4 NKJV